When you search for the term “sexual sadist” on Google, the definition given comes from The Free Dictionary. This links simply to the word “sadism”, which has the following definition:
sa·dism (sdzm, sdz-)
1. The deriving of sexual gratification or the tendency to derive sexual gratification from inflicting pain or emotional abuse on others.
2. The deriving of pleasure, or the tendency to derive pleasure, from cruelty.
3. Extreme cruelty.
While the term appears to be sex-neutral, we know that this is not materially true. While there are undoubtedly females who fall within the definition, both the practice and the social understanding generally applies to males. If you have done any research on pornography–both graphic and “literary”–the sadist is presented as male almost universally. The female sadist is a very, very rare exception to this rule. Since the majority of porn is aimed at heterosexual males, it follows that the presentation of the masochist or the victim of the sadist is almost universally female. This goes back to the patriarchal concept of masculine dominance and feminine submission. The concept that the abuse of women is not only normal, it is what women desire.
In patriarchal society, sadists as a group are divided into two: the sadist who engages in “consensual” sadomasochistic relations and the sadist whose sadism is “forced”. There is a refusal–even among the choice proponents in liberal feminism–to acknowledge that the underlying psycho-sexual make-up of the sadist is the same whether the sadism is “consensual” or “forced”. Indeed, some sadists have entered into “consensual” sadomasochistic relations with the intent of killing their “consenting” partner. Others have entered these relations with indifference to whether the partner ends up dead or not. All enter the relations with the idea that torture, humiliation, cruelty, and abuse are sexually satisfying. Let’s repeat that, so we are all on the same page here: TORTURE, HUMILIATION, CRUELTY and ABUSE are SEXUALLY SATISFYING. Torture. Humiliation. Cruelty. And abuse. Are sexually satisfying.
Indeed, the word “sadism” itself is taken from the name of the Marquis de Sade, a member of the French nobility who was known to kidnap and torture women. He was not the first to forcibly take women to torture and to humiliate them for his twisted sexual satisfaction, nor was he the last. He was just the most famous. Society as a whole recognizes that this type of sadism is wrong. What society as a whole refuses to condemn is the sadist who engages is so-called consensual sadomasochism. This, despite the fact that the underlying psycho-sexual make-up and motivations of the “forced” sadist and of the “consensual” sadist are the same. This, despite the fact that we have plenty of evidence that the so-called “consensual” sadist has been known to kill his female partners in pursuit of sexual gratification.
The serial killer John Edward Robinson recruited his “consensual” sadomasochistic partners via online forums meant for sadomasochistic hook-ups. The majority of the women he tortured and eventually murdered were not kidnapped. They were not tricked. They entered into these relationships “willingly” (assuming that you don’t consider patriarchal conditioning of women to accept submissiveness and abuse coercive). In the language of liberal feminism, they chose to be there. They exercised their “agency” by making that “choice”. And they ended up murdered and stuffed in 55 gallon drums. As I’ve mentioned before, a friend of mine ended up dead during a “consensual” sadomasochistic encounter. Her sadistic “partner” suffocated her to death with a plastic dry-cleaning bag. These are but two examples of men who murdered while engaged in “consensual” sadomasochistic sex. They are not the only examples.
When more radically minded feminists bring these issues up, they are commonly met with a couple of excuses by males who lay claim political radicalism and by females who claim to be feminists. One is the “choice” argument. People who argue against capitalism, racism and other “isms” because they are injurious to groups of people seem to run into problems when it comes to sadism. Here, they will hypocritically cling to the “individual choice” argument. Guess what? Some people choose to work for employers who exploit them. Some people of color choose to join racist organizations like the Republican Party. A political radical should recognize that “an injury to one is an injury to all”. They should instinctively know that the protection of the group is what political radicals are supposed to be about. And they will recognize these things…until it comes to misogyny. Then, they trot out the “individual” and “choice”.
As I have written previously, some women “choose” to stay with men who beat them–even when they are under no financial constraints that might force them to. In fact, I have male friends who have seen women being beaten in public places. When they intervened, the women have verbally or physically attacked them for stopping the beatings. Does the fact that these women choose to stay with violent men and even physically resist when someone tries to end the violence mean that the violence is acceptable? Does it mean we should advocate for the violence to continue?
The other argument that is brought up is that the sadist who kills or kidnaps is committing a crime, while the sadist involved in “consensual” sadomasochism isn’t. Sure. That’s true, but it’s a weak argument. Legality doesn’t make something acceptable, and it sure as hell doesn’t make it something to advocate. The racist who doesn’t actively commit violence against people of color isn’t committing a crime. Would a so-called political radical or even a liberal then say that racism is just fine? Would that person not only say that racism is acceptable, but that anyone who condemns racism is unreasonable? Would that person advocate for the circulation of racist graphics and literature? Would that person publicly criticize and deride those who fight to end racism? Did I hear, “No”? So, why does this suddenly become the directive as soon as women and the male right to violate women come into the picture?
The fundamental issue behind feminist critiques of sadism has nothing to do with legality. It has nothing to do with the liberal/libertarian veneration of individualism. It has to do with the radical notions of improving the lot of the oppressed and exploited group. It has to do with the psycho-sexual foundation of sadism–that torture, humiliation, cruelty and abuse are sexually satisfying. It has to do with the cultural constructs of “feminine” and of “masculine” that tie femininity to masochism and masculinity to sadism. It has to do with the ways those ties restrict and influence women’s lives in other aspects of society. It has to do with the ways that these constructs reinforce rape culture. It has to do with the ways women are kept as the sex class–open and available to both the most extreme kinds of male abuse and the everyday sexual demands of men they may not even know. It’s not about what two (or more) individuals do in the bedroom. It’s about how the underlying ideas endanger and limit women outside the bedroom.